Your Protest Questions Answered, From Coronavirus to Tear Gas

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Demonstrators fill Broadway near Oakland Police Department headquarters on May 29, 2020 during a protest over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police have continued across the Bay Area this past week, you probably have questions about everything from the history of protesting for racial justice to how much you should worry about coronavirus in relation to protests.

We're working on collecting your questions and providing you with answers. Submit your questions here.

On Protesting in the Time of COVID-19

(From the Avoiding Coronavirus While Protesting episode of Forum)

Q: [Protesting] is a big risk, isn't it, with all these people crowded together?

A: "I think it depends on the situation. We've all seen people widely spaced apart. But then, of course, if you saw the Portland Bridge ... they were pretty close together. So I do think there is a risk there. I mean, there was equally a risk Memorial Day weekend when we saw people out partying with no social distancing and no masks. So I think that's a real contrast. But certainly it brings public health people concern around testing and watching trends." — Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and population health, Stanford University School of Medicine

Q: The surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams, said this could lead to not only new outbreaks, but it could lead to new clusters. How worried should we be?

A: "We're learning more about these potential super-spreading events or super-spreading phenomena, and it's hard to know ... I think we're learning a lot right now about what might happen. We've been tracking, at least I have been tracking the post-Memorial Day situation in particular in areas where there was a lot of partying. And surprisingly, either people aren't getting tested or they're really not getting infected. Either of those could be true. I'm sure the public health departments in these areas are really looking into additional surveillance." — Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and population health, Stanford University School of Medicine

Q: What do we know about screaming, coughing, chanting or singing and the spread of the coronavirus?

A: "A lot of these engineers and physicists have been publishing more and more data around this idea. And for us epidemiologists 'aerosol' means one thing that's different from what a physicist thinks. For us, 'aerosol' means droplets that really do stay in the air for longer periods of time, all by themselves. And I think when we talk about aerosol here, we're talking about the ability to transmit a droplet through the air for a sustained period of time in certain situations ...

"When you're crowded, when you're yelling, when you're singing – certainly the Seattle situation was a very good example of an event where people were together for many hours in close quarters and they were singing, expelling droplets for sure – and we saw many infections and actually a couple deaths. So ... clearly those things will need to be taken into account.

"I think the good news here is that most of these people are outside and they're wearing masks, so that may be helpful." — Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and population health, Stanford University School of Medicine


Tear Gas

(From the Avoiding Coronavirus While Protesting episode of Forum)

Q: Should you wear eye protection, like goggles, in situations that might involve tear gas?

A: "Yes, definitely. I think the first thing would be to just wear a mask as one would normally do outside keeping social distance, and then if you are expecting to be in [a tear gas situation] to wear a mask if possible. I think it's also [important] to remind people that media portrayals often [reflect] moments late in the night. Not always. But often what we're seeing is the final event of the action and ... technically there should definitely be a dispersal order that happens before [use of tear gas] that allows people to leave if they if they choose to." — Lakshmi Sarah, producer and reporter, KQED


We have a running list of Bay Area curfews here and are answering your curfew questions here. Most curfews throughout the Bay Area were rescinded by Friday.

On the History of Protesting for Racial Justice in America

(From the What 1968 Can Teach Us About Protest and Upheaval in 2020 episode of Forum.)

Q: Since the '60s, what have we really learned? As we continue to protest, will we see real changes? Will the status quo and the people in power continue to reign? Is change possible?

A: "We had a moment in the 1960s and we blew it. As [professor Clayborne Carson] said, rhetorically there was a war on poverty, but it was underfunded and didn't have the kind of comprehensive support that was needed to actually have an effect on poverty.

"So I think, in keeping this pressure on, that we currently have ... we've galvanized the nation. Racial injustice will no longer be tolerated. The discriminatory and horrific policing and prison system in this country is no longer acceptable. And this is some of the spirit that was coming out of the protests and the unrest the 1960s. But instead, policymakers and our institutions took the wrong policy turn.

"So instead of making that massive investment that the Kerner Commission called for, we end up getting a massive investment in a new kind of system, which is, of course, policing, surveillance and incarceration. So ... we don't get a job creation program for low-income Americans of color through the war on poverty. But we do get a major job creation program for police in the war on crime.

"I think the biggest lesson that we can learn is that we made this decision to manage the problems of failing schools and unemployment and dilapidated housing with police and with new surveillance technologies and with locking people up. And that has not worked. That has been one of the biggest policy failures in the history of the United States. So now it's time. And now we have a moment when we can try something new." — Elizabeth Hinton, professor of history and African and African American studies, Harvard University

Some quotes edited for length and clarity.

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